Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Barber in the Bull Ring

Sam is still in Cologne - his latest squib is on the final performance of Barber of Seville of the season:

10 May 200

It was only a matter of time before an opera director would come up with the idea: Plop a new production of Rossini's Barber of Seville in the middle of a bullfighting arena. The time came two seasons ago at the Cologne Opera. A production team headed by Christan Schuller dumped the action into the bullring of a bisected stadium. Mini sets, placed on stage wagons of various sizes, rolled on and off by choristers and supernumeraries, gave the audience a notion of where the proceedings were actually taking place.

I don't know what kind of reception Schuller and company received at the premiere, but this past Sunday afternoon, an attentive, nearly full house of spectators responded enthusiastically to this season's final performance of the production's revival. Much of the enthusiasm focused on the cast, which dutifully went through the motions of the staging while focusing their efforts on fleshing out Rossini's delightful score.

She's not ideally suited to the role, but Regina Richter was vocally a cunning Rosina. She rattled off her flights of fioritura with ease and drew wit and irony from the outset with her "Una voce poco fa."

Richter had a versatile foil in Gerardo Garciacano's Figaro, who proved himself as equally at home with Rossini as he was comfortable with Mozart a few days earlier. Garciacano's partner in mischief at that performance of Cosi fan tutte, Benjamin Bruns, turned up again, this time as Almaviva and pursued the Count's amorous adventure with a secure, mellifluous line.

Maurizio Muraro turned out to be a sympathetic Bartolo, while Wilfried Staber turned Don Basilio's "La Calunnia" into a showcase of sonority. Enrico Delamboye returned to the pit on a short turnaround, following a nerve-wracking but successful evening on the podium at the premiere of the Cologne Opera's new Samson et Dalila. His way with Rossini could use a bit more zest, but maybe he and the excellent Gürzenich Orchestra were recovering from a bout of Saturday Night Vibe.

In fairness to the musicians as well as the performing artists, though, much of the sparkle was vitiated by Schuller's middle-brow Barber-in-the-Bullring concept, which he has not thought out clearly. If his view of the mise en scene makes Bartolo the ill-fated bull, as it perforce must, does Rosina embody his ears? Or tail? The concept is further muddied by Jens Killian's brown-dominant stadium and shlock house garments. And where are the blood-thirsty crowds? The stands remain empty for most of the proceedings.

There's a gaping hole here, that Schuller makes no apparent effort to close: Bullfighting rings are places for a blood sport that is tragic at its crux. Il Barbiere di Seviglia is bloody good fun and comedic to its core.

This Barber needs a haircut. And a makeover.

© Sam H. Shirakawa

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